Sometimes I worry that it was my fault that everything went so wrong. I haven’t told anyone else that; it makes me feel really bad, just thinking it. All those people hungry, all those people dead. Maybe us, too, soon. I don’t want people to hate me for starting it all. But as your eyes are shut, and you’re not saying anything, it makes it easier to tell you.
Life was pretty normal up until my dream. I went to school; I played on the swings and slides at the park (Ben thought I was getting too old for this, but Dad told me that he would have played on them too if his bottom wasn’t too big!); I had a Happy Meal at McDonald’s most Saturdays (Ben always had one as well, so maybe he wasn’t as grown-up as he kept telling me). We were a normal family, living in a normal street, and we loved each other like normal people do, even though Mum and Dad argued so much near the end. Just like you and your family loved each other, I bet, before the bombs started falling.
Ben told me once – when we were on the way back to Ramsgate - that he knew what was coming. It had been in the papers, he said. It had been on the News at Ten. But I’d never seen him read a paper in his life, and he went to bed at half past nine, so I think he might have just been trying to make himself look grown-up. It helped a little, though, thinking that maybe all this was going to happen, whether I’d had the dream or not. I don’t know what I’d do if I found out it was all down to me.
It was different from any dream I’ve ever had before. I’ve had bad dreams by the bucket-load, but they were all about forgetting my words in a school play, not having any clothes on when I go out, losing Teddy (you can guess what Ben has to say about me still having Teddy at my age). But I’d never dreamt of people dying before.
I was standing outside my house, still in my pyjamas, with Teddy tucked under my arm. I have no idea why I was out there; that’s what dreams are like I guess. I could see Mum and Dad and Ben walking along the road towards me, chatting away to each other, without a care in the word. But I could just knew that something bad was going to happen. I called out to them, telling them to run away and hide.
“What’s up, Jack?” Dad called back. “What’s wrong?”
I didn’t know. It was just a feeling, if you know what I mean. I shrugged. I still wanted them to run, but I just couldn’t explain why, and I didn’t want to look stupid.
They carried on walking towards me.
The feeling got worse.
“Run!” I cried. “Run!”
There was a plane overhead. There were lots of little sticks dropping from it, heading down towards the four of us. Bombs. They had to be bombs.
I tried to call out again, but my voice wouldn’t work. My legs wouldn’t move either. I pointed up at the plane, praying that they would see the danger, that they would take cover and be safe. But they just kept walking towards me, smiling all the time.
There was an explosion, a flash of light, but most of all there was a bang, a bang so loud that it woke me up. I’d never had sound in my dreams before, as far as I can remember, yet alone a noise so loud enough to wake me. That was weird. It made it all more real.
I sat up in bed, shaking. I was sure that this it wasn’t just a dream, that one of my family – maybe all my family - was really dead. I looked over towards Ben’s bed. He was sound asleep, and snoring a little. He was alright, but I still didn’t know about Mum and Dad. He wouldn’t be happy if I woke him up, so I left him alone. I thought (wrongly) that it was Monday, a school-night, and now he was at big-school he was always telling me that he needed his sleep because the stuff they did during the day was much harder than all the baby-stuff we still did at my school. But I needed to talk to someone. I needed someone to tell me that it was just a dream, and that everything would be fine by the morning.
I decided to go and check on Mum and Dad, to make sure that they were alright. If they were fine, then I could go back to sleep. I would ask them to phone Nan in the morning, just in case anything had happened to her I Canterbury, and I would be a little worried about my friends until I had counted them all in at school, but if my family was okay then I could at least go back to sleep.
I was just putting my dressing-gown on when the bombs fell for real.
The explosions came one after the other, really close together. On TV, in cartoons, you hear a whistle, gradually getting louder, and then a big bang. But this just seemed to be bang after bang after bang, like the beat in a song, only turned up really loud.
“They’re bombing us!” said Ben, suddenly awake.
“I’m sorry,” I told him, feeling like it was my fault. There had been no bombs before I’d dreamt them.
“Under the bed,” he said. “Quick.”
I wanted to go upstairs to my parents’ bedroom. They’d know what to do, how to make it safe. Parents are good like that. But he said it again, and it didn’t seem the right time for an argument, so I pulled enough toys out from under my bed to make room for an eight year old boy, and commando-crawled beneath it to keep him happy.
There were footsteps on the stairs. Mum and Dad were on their way down. The bombs were getting louder. There was a crash as some badly-balanced books toppled off the top of our book-case on to the carpet. My Dr Seuss, I think, as Ben always puts his books away carefully.
I could see Dad’s bare-feet from under the bed. There was a click as he tried to turn on the light-switch, but it stayed dark.
“Turn the light on,” Mum told him. She sounded almost as worried as the time I’d fallen from the top of the slide in the pub play area when they were inside ordering food. “Turn the light on!”
“What do you think I’m trying to do?” Dad replied. He sounded cross, as if this were her fault. Maybe she had had the same dreams as me.
“They’re gone,” she wailed. “Look; their beds are empty. Where have they gone?”
“We’re here,” I called to her, desperate to let he know I was okay, to look after her so she could look after me. I crawled out from beneath the bed. She had me in her arms before I was even standing up. As she hugged me, I could see Ben wriggling out from beneath his bed, too. I was better at crawling than him, so I got out first.
The bombs were still falling. I wondered why. Ramsgate is not a big town. It wouldn’t take long to bomb. We must have been the only house still standing by now.
“Stand under the door frame,” Dad told us.
“Isn’t that for earthquakes?” Mum worried.
“What does it effing matter?” (He didn’t say “effing”, you understand. He said the swear-word which I’m not supposed to know, yet alone to use. They must think I’m deaf since I’ve lost count of the number of times they mutter it under their breath or say it when they’re sitting in the front seats of the car with us in the back. But it’s a rude word all the same, so I’ll just say “effing” if that’s okay).
“There’s no need to swear to at me. I was just asking.”
Dad and Ben stood under the door frame of our bedroom. There was just about enough room for me and Mum to squeeze in as well.
There were the loudest bangs yet, four or five of them, and the whole room shook. I had a picture of Taylor Swift on the wall, taken when she was much younger than she is now (back in her early days, when she was still in her twenties). It wasn’t mine, but it was above my bed as Ben had run out of space for it on his wall. It shook loose, falling on to my pillow near where my head had been. Mum started crying. I squeezed her hand and told her everything was going to be alright, which made her cry all the more. She told me that I was her brave little soldier, which made me cringe in front of Ben.
The room was brighter now. It was lighter outside, as if morning had come early.
I needed the toilet, but didn’t think it would be a good time to ask.
And then it went quiet, all except for a car-alarm which was going off outside.
“Is that mine?” Dad asked.
Mum laughed, as if the question was stupid.
“What?” he asked.
She ignored him. “Are you guys okay?”
I nodded. “Can I go to the toilet?”
She nodded, too.
“Will they be back, Dad?” Ben asked. “Do we need to hide somewhere?”
I decided to wait around to see what the answer was. I shuffled out from beneath the door-frame, though, as it was a bit crowded under there, and I like to have a bit of space.
Dad looked at Ben for a while, and then at Mum. He started to say something, but then changed his mind and just smiled instead. “No,” he told him. “It’s all over now. It’s all over.”
It wasn’t, of course. It was just the start.
I get that I’m young, but it seems that whenever something bad happens my parents start treating me like a little baby. Especially Mum. She followed me to the toilet and insisted on standing right outside the door while I was in there, calling out to me from time to time that she was still there. The lights were still broken (I’d pulled the chord but nothing had happened), so it was kind of nice in a way, but I knew that Ben would tease me later. I was half expecting him to start straightaway, but when I went back out on to the landing he asked me if I was okay, which surprised me as usually he’s not very nice to me. I told him it would take more than a few bombs to scare me, and he laughed (which surprised me as well, as it wasn’t really meant to be a joke).
Dad was gone. The car-alarm stopped, so I guessed he was outside. Mum was tidying up our room, putting the books back on to the book case in alphabetical order of writer (she does that to keep Dad happy, as he likes everything to be in alphabetical order except breakfast cereal boxes). Ben went to help her, as he does, too.
I went down the stairs so Dad wouldn’t have to be alone. The door was wide open. It didn’t look as dark out there as I thought it would be. I thought that maybe it must have been nearly morning.
He was standing on the driveway by our car, the keys still in his hand, staring down the street. I looked where he was looking. Halfway down the road, three or four of the houses had gone. Where they had stood, there was just a pile of smoking bricks. The houses on either side had lost part of their fronts; the brickwork was jagged, like a half-finished jigsaw. The one on the right, the one nearest to us, was on fire, which was why it was lighter than it should have been at that time of the morning.
I saw something blowing down the street to us. I was going over to pick it up, but Dad took hold of the arm of my dressing-gown to keep me by his side. I watched it as it blew past our house. It was a bill or something, like dad gets for the electricity (even after all these years, he won’t let Mum get them online like everyone else does). I wanted to go and get it, to take it back to where it belonged. But Dad kept hold of me, and I stayed where I was.
More pieces of paper blew by. Pages from a newspaper, I think, or a magazine.
Dad looked at me. He smiled (one of those brave smiles that grown-ups give to cheer you up when you’re sad). “You were very brave up there,” he said. “I was proud of you.”
I smiled back. I shrugged as if it was nothing. Being brave was easier when your parents are there to look after you. I know that now.
Dad was the first to notice that I was on fire. Well, I say on fire; it was really just little spots of orange on my dressing gown from sparks which had floated down from further along the road. He put them out with his hands without burning them, which was cool.
Mum came out. “What are you doing out here?” She sounded cross, as if she had caught us skiving off. I hurried back indoors. Dad came in too, without answering her. They had been like this for weeks, always snapping at each other, always angry, and I couldn’t understand why. We have always been a really close family, always cuddling and stuff (except for Ben, who says he’s too old for that, and that I should be, too, so I only let them cuddle me now when we’re indoors and no-one can see us). But just lately, all that had changed. I guess that they must have known about the bombing before it happened, and been worrying about that. I hoped so, as that would mean that the bombs would have come whether I’d dreamt about them or not. I also hoped that now it was all over, now the bombs had fallen and were out of the way, everything could go back to normal, as they were starting to worry me.
“Half the street’s gone,” Dad told her when we were back indoors.
“Do you think it’s everywhere? Not just here?”
He shrugged. “I guess so. I can’t see why we’d be singled out. There’s nothing here.”
“What about Mum?” she asked, by which she meant Nan. “She’s on her own.”
“Call her. I’m gonna get dressed and go up the road; see if there’s anything I can do to help.”
“We need you here. With your family.”
He laughed, as if she had said something funny. She glared at him, but said nothing. She went into the living room, over to where we keep the phone. She had her back to me, but I could tell she was dialling. Dad tried to turn the lights on for her, but there was no power down here either. He went to fetch a torch to check the fuse-box.
Ben came down. “What’s going on? I can see fire down the road.”
“Mum’s phoning Nan to check she’s okay.”
Mum turned round to look at us, the phone to her ear. We caught her looking worried. She gave us both one of her brave smiles, like Dad had given me outside. Grown-ups do that quite a lot. “Just checking that your Nan’s alright. I’m sure she will be.”
“I’ve told Ben that already.”
She turned her back on us again, as if they would stop us from hearing what she was going to say to Nan. She wasn’t saying anything, though. Nan couldn’t have answered yet.
There was a clicking sound behind us as Dad tried the switches in the fuse-box in the cupboard under the stairs. Ben went to watch. He likes that sort of thing, because it’s what dads do. The lights stayed off.
“Come on, come on,” Mum was muttering under her breath. “Pick up.”
Dad and Ben came back into the living room. Dad started searching round for the remote control for the telly (Dad and Ben always put it back where it belongs, but the Mum and me leave it wherever we happen to be when we last use it, which drives dad mad as one of us lost it for three days once and it turned up on the bookcase in my room). So it’s hard enough to find the remote in the daylight, but it was even harder when the room was still quite dark. I found it for him, tucked down the side of a cushion on the sofa where Mum sits.
Mum stared as is he was mad when she saw the remote control in his hand. “You’re not going to watch the telly when I’m trying to phone my Mum?”
“I need to check the news. Find out what’s going on.”
She humphed, and turned her back again. I was starting to get a bit upset. We’d just been bombed. I needed them to make me feel safe again. I didn’t want them to start arguing again.
Dad held out the remote in front of him and pressed the on-button at the top. Nothing happened. He crooked his arm a little, holding the remote like maniacs hold guns in films when they’re about to shoot someone at close range (yes, I know I shouldn’t be watching those sort of films, but we’re allowed to stay up late at Christmas). That didn’t work either. He walked towards the telly, standing just a few feet away, and tried again. Still nothing. It was broken.
He threw the remote across the room. It bounced off a wall and came to a rest on the dining table. I started crying. I didn’t like it when he got cross.
Ben took me by my hand and led me back upstairs. “Let’s go back to bed. It’ll be alright in the morning.”
“Stay here,” Mum said, her ear still pressed to the telephone. “I want you both where I can see you.”
“They’re fine upstairs for now,” Dad overruled her. “Go on, up you go. I’ll be up in a second.”
He closed the door behind us as we left the room. He had stuff to talk to Mum about which he didn’t want us to hear. It was dark upstairs. I wasn’t afraid of the dark; I’ve had the light off in my room for as long as I can remember, because Ben can’t sleep if there’s any light at all. All the same, I was glad he was there to keep me company.
The door downstairs opened again. Dad. “Ben, could you see if your i-pad’s working?”
Ben scurried upstairs, glad of something to do. I scurried straight after him, just in case he needed help. Behind me, I could hear Mum putting the phone down. She hadn’t got through to Nan.
For the first time, I started to worry that this might not be over after all.
Ben’s i-pad worked, but we couldn’t get on the internet with it, so when Dad came up he asked us to turn it off again.
Mum passed our bedroom door on her way back to her bedroom. “Pack an overnight bag,” she told us. “We’re going to see if your Nan’s okay.”
“We don’t need an overnight bag to go to Nan’s,” Ben pointed out. “She’s only in Canterbury.”
Dad insisted. “I don’t know what it’s going to be like on the roads. It might take longer than usual. Best to take a bag, just in case we have to stay there tonight. I’m gonna pack some food to take with us, too. Either of you want to help me?”
We both nodded, but Dad wanted one of us to keep Mum company, and Ben chose me for that. So I followed her upstairs while Ben and Dad went downstairs to the kitchen to make some sandwiches.
Mum was looking for her overnight bag. She hadn’t used it for years. She knew it was in a cupboard in her bedroom, but she couldn’t find it. I told her I would look for it while she sorted out a change of clothes for us. She hugged me tightly, as if I was doing something brave, but it was just a bag.
“Is Nan alright?”
She nodded, and screwed up her chin a little, as if she was trying not to cry. “She’s fine, Angel. We’re just going to check if there’s anything she needs. She’s all on her own.”
“Since Grandad died.”
She nodded again, and her chin screwed up even more. I wished I hadn’t said that. Grandad only died a year ago. I didn’t want to make things worse. I do that sometimes, without meaning to.
I found the bag. She stuffed some clothes into it, and we then went back to my bedroom and she found a change of clothes for Ben and for me. She noticed for the first time that my dressing gown was singed in a couple of places, and fussed over for me for a little while, until I suggested that I get changed so I was ready to go. She’d already packed up my favourite top, but I found another one without making a fuss, and went to find Ben to tell him to get dressed, too.
Dad was still making sandwiches. I don’t know how long he thought it was going to take to get to Canterbury – it’s normally only half an hour in the car – but he had a pile of buttered bread there which was nearly as tall as the toaster. Ben left him to it so he could go upstairs and change, after Dad told him that he could manage on his own for a while. Besides, I was there to help out now.
I helped him put the filling in the sandwiches. He’d put the kettle on earlier, and now he filled a flask full of tea.
“Who bombed us?” I asked.
“Bad men,” he replied with feeling. I think he thought I was still about four years old.
“But who? And why?”
“Flooding in China,” he told me, but that made no sense at all.
“I’m kind of busy here, Little Man.”
I sighed. I would ask Ben later. I wasn’t sure how much he actually knew, but at least he would make more sense than Dad.
Mum came down, just as Dad was putting all the sandwiches in sandwich bags.
“Aren’t you ready yet? We have to go!”
“I’ve been making sandwiches.”
“What for? She’s only in Canterbury!”
“That’s what I said,” I told her, not wanting to take sides, but wanting her to know that it was a good point as far as I was concerned. Dad had definitely gone overboard on the sandwiches, whatever he said, especially as most of them were tuna which is fishy and disgusting.
Dad shrugged and went upstairs to get changed. Mum followed him to the foot of the stairs. “Ben! Are you ready? We’ve got to go!”
“I’m ready,” I told her, sensing the opportunity to score some points over him. She ruffled my hair, but I didn’t mind as I’d forgotten to brush it so there was no harm done. “Good boy.”
“Why did they drop bombs on our street?”
“Ask your Dad. He’s good at explaining these things.”
Not that good, I thought. He just keeps going on about flooding! But I said nothing. I was in her good books for being the first one to get ready, and I didn’t want to ruin it all by pestering her about stuff she didn’t want to talk about.
Dad and Ben only took a few minutes to get ready. We went out to the car. Our next-door neighbour - the bald man who never gives us our football back when it goes over the fence – was packing up his car, too, only his was full of teenage daughters and suitcases. I could see him through the window from the back-seat.
“That’s a lot of suitcases you’ve got there, Tom,” Dad said, as he was about to get into the driving seat of our car.
“Don’t know how long we’ll be away,” our bald neighbour replied, as he carried on cramming his luggage into his car. “Don’t know if we’ll be back at all.”
“It can’t be that bad.”
“We’ve just been bombed by the Reds. That’s about as bad as it gets.”
I thought the Reds were Liverpool, but I didn’t think they’d be bombing anyone. I filed it away for future use, though, as it was a clue. It was another question I could ask Dad when he was more in the mood to talk.
Our bald neighbour slammed shut the boot of his car. He came over and shook Dad by the hand. “Good luck, Ben.” Dad’s called Ben, too. My brother Ben’s named after him. It’s a good job we call him “Dad”, as we’d have all sorts of mix-ups if we had to call them both by the same name.
Dad looked worried. “Yeah, you too, Tom.”
Mum beeped the horn, anxious to be on our way. Dad looked as if he wanted to throttle her. He likes to be in charge, and he doesn’t like being interrupted when he’s talking.
He went back to the front door, and double-locked it. He rattled the door-handle to make sure it was locked. Mum huffed in the front passenger seat. He walked back to the car, and opened the door. “Do you think we need to take more food?”
“Seriously?” Mum asked.
“Did you see how much stuff Tom had in his car? He doesn’t think he’s coming back. A few more sandwiches wouldn’t hurt.”
“We need to go. Please. I need to make sure Mum’s alright. We can get something to eat in Canterbury when we’ve checked on her.”
Dad got in and turned the engine on. We started driving down the road. Mum fished around in her bag and produced a pack of cigarettes. I noticed her hand was shaking as she tried to take a cigarette out of the pack. “Not in the car,” ruled Dad. She put them back in her bag, but kept the bag in her lap, as if the fact she needed to be close to the cigarettes even if she couldn’t actually smoke them.
We passed the houses which were on fire. Dad drove as far on our side of the road as he could, actually scraping the kerb as he tried to keep as far away from them as possible. I guess he was worried that the houses might explode, like cars do when they flip over in films. Mum stared at the flames as we drove by. I couldn’t see what Dad did as he was in the seat in front of me, but he was always careful not to have any distractions when driving (we couldn’t even listen to our music if he was driving, though Mum was fine and always turned it up loud if Dad wasn’t there) so I guess he would have kept his eyes to the front.
Another thirty second’ drive further on, there were two or three people loading their cars with suitcases. Dad slowed down. Mum glanced over at him. He kept driving. And then, another 100 metres or so (it may have been more but I’m not great at distances) there was a whole row of flattened houses. It was starting to get light by now, so I could see everything clearly. Some people were digging in the rubble, trying to find something or someone. A lady was wailing like a fire engine. I hoped that if they were trying to find someone, that they would be okay, but it didn’t seem likely. They would have been squashed flat beneath all those bricks. I was glad it wasn’t our house, as I didn’t think that standing under a door frame would have saved us.
And then there were more people packing up their cars; maybe four or five of them by the time we got near the end of the road. Dad pulled over, and stopped.
“We need to pack.”
“We need to see Mum,” Mum said. She sounded cross with him again, even though he was just trying to look after us all.
“It won’t take a minute.”
“Please don’t do this to me. We’ve wasted so much time already. I have to see her. She’s on her own now.”
“We have to think of the kids.”
“Don’t you dare say that to me!”
I flinched. I was used to the two of them arguing lately, but I’d never heard her shout at Dad before. It was the voice she usually only used when Ben and I kept getting up when they were trying to watch TV downstairs, and I didn’t think that she ever used it on grown-ups, yet alone on Dad!
The car drove forward again. Like I said, I couldn’t see Dad, but Ben kept looking at him, and I guessed that Dad wasn’t very happy that she’d used her “get-back-in-bed-now!” voice on him. Mum looked over at him, too. She clutched her bag to her tummy as if it would make everything better.
“I’m sorry,” she told him. “I’m just worried about Mum, that’s all.”
She touched his arm.
“Not while I’m driving,” he said, and she put her arm down again.
The road curved round to the left. We followed it round. Dad braked quickly. He swore. Mum put her hand over her mouth.
I looked ahead. The road had run out. There was just a giant hole, maybe half the length of a house. We had come to a stop just a few metres away from the edge.
Getting to Canterbury was going to be a lot harder than we thought. Maybe we would need more sandwiches after all.
We turned round. As Dad was doing a three-point turn, we were nearly shunted into the hole by a car coming round the corner. It missed my side of the car by a metre or two. Dad shouted at the other driver. I could see the other driver shouting back at Dad. I tried to shrink into my seat so I wouldn’t get in the way. And then he drove backwards, Dad finished his three-point turn, and we were driving back the way we’d come.
We went back past the people packing their cars, and back past the houses which were still on fire. Dad stopped to tell the people packing their cars that the road was “impassable” ahead (I thought he was saying “impossible” at first, but after a couple of times I realized he wasn’t). I could see Mum looking more and more tense every time he stopped the car, but she said nothing. She just clutched her handbag tighter and tighter, like it was a teddy-bear or something.
I could see her relax a little as we drove past our house. I think we were all expecting Dad to stop and start packing bags left, right and centre, but he kept on going. He must have done it for Mum, so maybe things weren’t so bad between them after all.
We had only been driving a minute or two past our house when he had to stop again. This time, a house had actually collapsed into the road. It was knee-deep in rubble.
“Can’t you move it?” Mum asked. “Clear a path? There’s not all that much there.”
Dad laughed, but he didn’t sound like he thought it was funny. He did another three point turn. We were on a straighter stretch of road this time, so there were no near misses with other cars.
“We were so lucky,” Ben said to me. It was the first thing he’d said since we’d got in the car. “Bombs both sides of us. That could have been us.”
I didn’t like to think about that, especially after my dream. We had Mum and Dad upstairs anyway. They would have kept us safe, like they always had before.
Back home. We went in the house. Our bald next-door neighbour was letting himself back in, too, but none of us spoke to him and he didn’t speak to us either. There wasn’t much to say.
“What are we going to do?” Mum asked, when we were back indoors.
“We stay here until the power’s back on,” Dad told her. “And then we turn on the TV and find out exactly what’s happening. There’ll be advice from the Government. They’ll tell us what we need to do.”
“But Mum. What about Mum? We’ve got to go and see her.”
“What else can we do? We’re not walking to Canterbury. Not with the kids.”
“I’ll go, then.”
“No, Mum, please don’t,” Ben said. “It’s dangerous.”
“Do we know anyone with a bike I could borrow?” she asked.
I held her hand. She looked at me. Her chin wobbled again. “I don’t want to leave you guys, but she’s old. I’m the only one she’s got.”
Dad held her other hand. “The power will be back on soon. And the Council will clear the roads. Or maybe the army, even. We can drive there this afternoon; it’ll be quicker to wait for that than to walk all that way. It’ll take you all day to walk it. Wait here, see what advice we’re given, get the travel news, and then we go and see your Mum as soon as the roads are clear again. Okay?”
She nodded. I’d never seen her look so sad.
Dad went upstairs to pack our suitcases. Overnight bags weren’t enough anymore. Ben went with him to keep him company. Mum and I made sandwiches until the bread ran out.
After everything that had happened that morning, it felt really weird playing Monopoly. I think Mum and Dad just wanted to take our minds off things while we were waiting for the power to come back on. They would ordinarily have left us to watch films or play games on our i-pads but I think they wanted to do something we could all do together, so Monopoly it was. For the record, I won. I don’t think Mum was concentrating as she didn’t say anything when I landed on all her hotels on Park Lane and our rules are that if someone doesn’t notice when you land on their properties, then they’ve only got themselves to blame.
The power didn’t come back. Dad had left the TV on so that it would come on straightaway when the power was back again, but it stayed off. He sometimes pressed the on-button on the remote control, just in case, and double-checked the fuses again, but there was no power at all. He went next-door to see his bald friend, but they told that they didn’t have any electricity either. Mum suggested another game of Monopoly, but no-one’s heart was in it.
Ben and I ended up in our room. I think Mum had wanted us to stay together, but Ben kept pestering her to let him go and see his friends and in the end I think she decided that the only way to keep him quiet was for them to be in different rooms from us. It didn’t keep him quiet, of course. It just meant that I was the only one who had to listen to him moaning about being stuck indoors.
“It’s dangerous out there,” I pointed out. I’ve never been a thrill-seeker. Ben’s ideal day would be spent at a theme park: Chessington or Thorpe Park. Mine would be reading a comic on the beach, with as much ice cream as I could eat on the way home.
“Sam’s only five minutes away. It’s not like I’m gonna fall into a hole or anything. I’m not stupid. I’m eleven for God’s sake! Nearly twelve!”
“You should stay here. We might have to go in a hurry when the power’s back on.”
“They could pick me up on the way past. Besides, Sam’s Dad’s got a four by four. It would be easy to see Nan using that, He could drive over the bricks and everything.”
“Can they do that?”
“Easy. That’s what they’re for. They drive them through rivers in the countryside.”
“Would they lend it to us?”
“If they’re not using it.”
“Should we tell Mum? Maybe we could go and see Nan after all, without waiting for the roads to be cleared up?”
“I can’t ask them, though, not when I’m stuck here. If she lets me go round there, I’d ask them. I’m sure they’d let us borrow it. We could be at Nan’s for tea if she lets me go out.”
“Shall we tell Mum, then?”
“She won’t let me go. You can ask her if you want, though.”
I didn’t want. I’d wanted him to do it, in case asking made her cross. “Can’t be bothered,” I told him. “He’s your mate, not mine.”
He played on his i-pad for a while. The battery had run out on mine, and I couldn’t re-charge it, so I gave it to him back and I tried reading Dr Seuss. It was hard to concentrate. I wanted to talk.
“Were you scared?” I asked him.
“Wait for me to get to the next level,” he said. I waited patiently for what seemed like ages. After about a million years, he saved his game, and came and sat next to me on the bed.
“What was the question again?”
“Were you scared? When the bombs fell.”
“Course not. We’re safe here. Were you?”
“Not at the time. It was quite fun.” It wasn’t actually fun at all, but I thought he might be impressed if I said that. “But then when I saw all those houses outside. And you said that it could have been us. It got me thinking, that’s all.”
“I was just teasing.”
“You didn’t sound like you were teasing. You said it all serious, like. I wouldn’t want our house to be squashed flat. Not when we were all in it.”
Ben looked at me sternly. “You’re not gonna go all girly on me, are you?”
I shook my head. “Course not.”
“I thought I had a brother. If you start worrying about bombs, I’m gonna have to treat you like a sister instead. Maybe put a dress on you or something.”
I shook my head again. I didn’t want him to treat me like a sister. They played with dolls and stuff, and they were rubbish at games on the i-pad as far as I could make out from school.
I heard Dad rushing up the stairs. He hurried past the door to our room and ran up the stairs (two at a time, which I’m going to do all the time when my legs are bigger) to his bedroom. Ben and I followed him up, because Iwanted to know what was going on. We found him pulling an old suitcase out from beneath his bed. It was full of old junk that he and Mum never used but hadn’t quite got the heart to throw out. He took out a radio, which was older even than Ben.
He turned it on. Nothing. “Batteries,” he said, and he was off down the stairs again. We followed him again, as we had nothing else to do. There was no way I was going back to my bedroom, just in case there were any more questions from Ben about whether I was his brother or a sister.
Dad was going through drawers in the kitchen. “Where’s the effing batteries?” he asked (he didn’t say “effing” though). Mum came in. She went to an overhead drawer, and found the batteries straightaway. “Where they’ve always been,” she replied, as she handed them to him. That was quite funny, as Dad’s usually the organized one and Mum doesn’t usually know where anything is. He didn’t laugh, though.
He looked around the room. “Where did I put the radio?”
That was funny, too.
She raised her eyebrows and pointed to the radio he’d left on top of the microwave. He snatched it up and put in the batteries at speed. He turned it on. Still nothing.
“Some of them might not work,” Mum said, handing him some more batteries.
“Then why haven’t we thrown them away?”
“You tell me! I’m not the battery monitor, you know!”
He removed the back of the battery compartment, huffed when he couldn’t get the batteries out with his fingers, and grabbed a fork to help him wriggle them free. The old batteries came out, the new batteries went in. Still nothing.
“It’s not working.”
Maybe they’re all old batteries.”
“Well that’s not much effing use, is it?”
“Don’t swear at me.”
Mum left the room. Dad looked at us. “Have you guys got any batteries?”
“Nothing that would fit in something that old,” Ben replied. “All my stuff charges up from the mains.”
Mum came back in with the remote control for the TV.
“Is it working?” Dad asked, hope in his voice.
She shook her head. “No. I’m getting the batteries out.”
He took the remote control from her. I guess he felt that the radio was his idea, and he wanted to see it through himself. I used to be a bit like that with my Meccano set when I was younger, when Ben wanted to finish off the stuff I was building and I wouldn’t let him.
After a little more popping out of old batteries with the fork, the batteries from the remote control went into the radio and he switched it on. There was quiet static. He turned it up. There was loud static. He turned the dial. There was someone speaking French. He yelped in delight.
Ben leaned in towards me. “If he wanted the radio, he should’ve told me. I’ve got a radio-app on my i-pad he could’ve used.”
“Probably best not to tell him that,” I advised.
There didn’t seem to be many channels on the radio, and the ones there were all seemed to be in French. He persisted. And then, all of a sudden, we heard a voice in English, repeating the same minute-long message over and over again. It made Mum cry. For a minute, I thought Dad was going to cry, too, but he stopped himself. I guess he was worried that Ben might start calling him “Mum” if he did.
The message said:
“Last night, the Russian army landed in Ireland. All resistance there is at an end. It is expected that they will cross over to Wales and the West of England this morning. They are anticipated to target all major British cities including London, Cardiff, Birmingham, Leeds, Liverpool and Manchester. Although Scotland was not involved in the fighting in Scandinavia, it is thought that they too are likely to face invasion.
The expected invasion was proceeded by heavy bombing last night across England and Wales, focusing on densely populated areas, broadcasting and telecommunications centres, and ports which might be used for evacuation.
The British Government is taking all possible steps to oppose the invasion, but contingency plans are being drawn up, including possible evacuation to France, the Netherlands and Belgium.
Further bulletins will be issued on this channel as and when available. In the meantime, the Government has appealed for calm, and for all citizens to keep public order.”
Mum couldn’t stop crying. Dad hugged her. It was good to see that they were friends again.
He sent us back to our bedroom. On our way up the stairs, we could hear him telling her, over and over again, that everything was going to be alright. He was using the same voice that he used when I fell off my bike last year and banged my head on a lamppost. She didn’t seem convinced (and I hadn’t been either).
We were bored upstairs. Ben said the battery on his i-pad was getting low, and he wanted to save it in case we needed the radio app. I tried reading, but it was hard to concentrate when I could hear Mum sobbing downstairs. I wanted to go to her, give her a cuddle and tell her that I thought that everything was going to be alright, too, but I’m not sure she would have believed me either. Dad knew more about these things than me, so I supposed it was better coming from him.
He called us down after just ten minutes or so. Mum looked a little better. We had lunch. The gas cooker was as dead as the lights and the television so we couldn’t have anything hot. We ate some of the sandwiches which Dad had made earlier. There were plenty to spare, as he’d made what looked like hundreds of them!
Mum mentioned Nan again. If there was a war on, it was even more important that we go and visit her.
“I’m sorry, Love,” Dad told her. “It’s too dangerous. They said on the radio that they were bombing the cities.”
“Canterbury’s not a city.”
“It’s got a cathedral.”
“Okay, Mr Pedantic. But it’s not a big city. Which ones did they say? London. Birmingham. Liverpool. Nothing the size of Canterbury.”
“They couldn’t list them all, though, could they? Just the big ones, to show it’s all over the country. If they bombed Ramsgate, there’s no way they would have left Canterbury alone. Besides, we haven’t got a car. How are we supposed to get there?”
“We could walk.”
“Walk? With the kids? No way. It’s thirty five miles return.”
“We only need to go one way, though. We could stay at Mum’s until the roads are mended and then get a taxi back.”
“The roads aren’t going to be mended, are they? We’re being invaded. It’s safest to stay here. Maybe the phones will be back on later. If we’re walking to Canterbury, your Mum might try and get through and there will be no-one here to take her call.”
“Why would they mend the phones and not the roads?”
“He mentioned telecommunications on the radio. They’re important. The government will want to make sure people can phone each other to stop them panicking and roaming around the countryside to see relatives who are probably much safer than we are. Your Mum’s a tough old bird. It would take more than a few bombs to rattle her. She’s fine, I know she is. She’d want you to stay here anyway, I know she would.”
“We’ve got to go.”
“Tomorrow, then.” Dad had resorted to stalling, I could see that straightaway. He could see that nothing he could say would change Mum’s mind about going, and stalling was the next best thing. “We stay here tonight, we listen to the radio – no turning it on for music or anything guys, it only goes on for the news bulletins, okay? – and we see if they mention Canterbury. If, from what they say, it sounds safe where Nan lives, then we stay here; it’s not worth making the journey if there’s been no bombing there. If there has been bombing, then of course we must go. I wouldn’t want her to be on her own at a time like this.”
“You’ve never liked my mother.”
“Agreed? One more night, and then we go and find her if she needs our help?”
Mum reluctantly nodded, but she didn’t look at all sure about it. If I knew he was stalling, then I’m sure she must have known, too.
“One more night,” Dad repeated, as if she was simple.
“We might as well finish the sandwiches for tea,” Mum replied, which seemed like she was changing the subject to me. “If we’ve got no fridge, they’ll be disgusting by tomorrow. We don’t all want sickness and diarrhea if we’re walking to Canterbury.”
“I thought we’d save some, just in case. It’s the only cold food we’ve got except cheese and breakfast cereal. The milk will probably be off by now.”
“We’ve got crisps,” I pointed out, to be helpful, but everyone ignored me.
“I’m going to Tesco’s,” Dad decided. “To stock up. And get some money out, in case we need it later on.”
“Don’t they close at four on a Sunday?” Mum enquired.
“That’s just the big one. They’re open until late down the road. I’ll go now. It might get busy. You know what people are like with their panic-buying. I’ll get there first and buy as much as I can before some other bugger does.”
I could have said the “B-word” then, by the way, but I’m don’t think that bugger is as bad as the “F-word” so I left it in. Maybe I should have changed it, to be on the safe side. I will next time. I’m not sure whether you can hear me or not, but I wouldn’t want to upset you with bad swear words if you can.
“I’m coming with you,” Ben told Dad.
“And me,” I said, not wanting to be left out.
“No. I’m going on my own.”
“We’ll all go,” Mum put in. “You always stray off the list when you see something on special offer, so I need to be there to make sure you don’t come back with ten loaves of out of date bread, and a bagful of cat-food that was on special offer.”
“We haven’t got a cat,” I pointed out.
“That’s kind of my point. Come on, get your coats on. I’m going to go mad if I have to be stuck in this house all day. The exercise will do us good.”
“It might be dangerous,” Dad protested. “The buildings might not be stable. You saw the one that had collapsed in the road.”
“Then we’ll have to be very careful, won’t we? I’m not staying here, no matter what you say. There’s only so much (B-word) Monopoly you can play in one day.”
Dad went to get his coat. He recognized the tone in Mum’s voice; there was no arguing with her when she used it. He had won the important victory over putting off our trip to see Nan in Canterbury, and I think he must have decided that a family trip to Tesco’s was a small price to pay for it.
But he was wrong.
As it turned out, our trip to Tesco’s was a lot worse than the bombing.
We’d been there a thousand times before (Dad tells me off for exaggerating, but if it wasn’t a thousand times it must have been pretty close). Mum would get the groceries, and quite often Ben and I would get a magazine or some sweets if we pestered her enough. Sometimes it got a bit boring while she wandered round the aisles trying to find the baking powder or the aspirins, but the magazine made it worth going all the same. This time, though, I wished I had stayed at home.
It wasn’t too bad getting there. We had to climb over the rubble at the end of the road which had stopped us driving to Canterbury. It had looked pretty solid from the car, but it was actually all loose bricks and twisted metal. Mum tripped over a melted television and cut herself on both elbows as she fell, but Ben and I are really good at climbing so we were okay. Mum went really, really slowly after she fell, and Dad held her shoulders to support her, and we made it across without any further accidents. I wondered whether it might be harder getting back when we were carrying shopping bags, but didn’t say anything as I didn’t want to worry anyone.
When we came round the corner, Tesco’s was just a couple of hundred yards further along the road. Dad groaned as we were walking towards it. It was closed. The glass in the automatic doors was shattered, as if someone had thrown a brick at it. That’s called vandalism, and you can go to prison for it for a very long time.
We walked up to the garage nearby, where Dad stops for petrol. There was more rubble in the road on the way. If we had made it out of our street in the car, we wouldn’t have got much further. I started to think again how lucky we were that our house hadn’t been hit by a bomb, because a lot of other people had been.
Someone was sitting on the rubble of one house, with their head in their hands, sobbing quietly to themselves. Ben started to go over to see if they were alright (he’s very grown up like that) but Dad took his hand and kept on walking. I think he was keen to get bread so he could make up some more sandwiches, and didn’t want anything to slow him down.
The garage was closed, too. There were a couple of teenagers cupping their hands to the window, looking inside. Mum said they looked like they were up to no good, so maybe they were the ones who’d smashed the glass-door at Tesco’s. We went back down the road before we could find out whether she was right.
When we got back to Tesco’s, there were a couple of people at the cash-point. Dad queued up behind them, his card at the ready, while we waited for him nearby so the other people didn’t think we were trying to look at their numbers. The person at the front took ages. She took her card and stomped off, without saying anything to anyone. The lady behind her took ages, too. She got her card back, said something to Dad, and left. As it was just Dad left, we went to find out what was going on.
“She says it’s out of order,” Dad told Mum, “but it doesn’t say so on the screen. I’ll give it a go, see what happens.”
He put his card in. He put in his secret code (I could see what it was, but I’m not allowed to tell you). He waited. His card came back out. The message on the screen said “Error.” He tried again. The same thing happened.
“At least they’ve got electricity here. Try it again,” urged Mum. “We’re going to need money.”
“I’m worried it might keep my card if I do it three times,” Dad replied. “I’ll try another machine later.”
We continued in our search for groceries. There was a newsagents about five minutes’ walk away, just the far side of the recreation ground with the swings and slides in it. There were more bombed houses. Every so often, we passed a person or a family walking in the opposite direction, but we never said anything to any of them and they didn’t say anything to us either. At the traffic lights, there was more rubble in the road, and a car was sitting on top of it. It must have tried to drive over the rubble and got stuck. It was only a little car. I was surprised that it made it as far up as it did. It was shame they didn’t have a four by four, like Ben’s friend, as they could then have driven over it easily.
Within a few minutes, we were at the newsagents. Dad groaned again. This time, the shop was open, but the queue outside was massive. I won’t say how many people were in it, because you’ll think I’m exaggerating again, but it ran alongside the three houses next-door.
We took our place at the end of the queue. People were coming out of the shop with arms full of stuff. Dad looked worried.
“I can’t see any bread or milk,” he said, having closely checked out the groceries as they walked by. “I bet they’ve run out of essentials.”
“It’s only a little shop,” Mum agreed. “Maybe we should try somewhere else?”
“Not now we’re in the queue.”
A family of four walked by, similar to ours but with two girls instead of two boys. Considering they had about ten carrier bags of groceries between them (they must have brought their own bags as everyone else was carrying their stuff in their arms), they didn’t seem very happy. The Mum looked the crossest of the lot. “A hundred and forty quid just for that?” she complained. “It’s disgusting, putting his prices up like that. I’m never going there again.”
Mum (our Mum) looked at Dad.
“How much money have you got?”
“About thirty quid.”
“Thirty quid? That’s not going to get us much!”
“I was going to get some at the cash-point. So how much have you got?”
“I haven’t brought my purse. I thought we were going to stick it on the credit card.”
“They don’t do credit cards in here.”
“But I thought we were going to Tesco’s. They take credit card in Tesco’s.”
There was a commotion at the front of the queue. Mum stepped out of the queue to see what was going on. She came back within seconds. “Someone’s trying to push in at the front.”
I could hear shouting. And arguing. And then the queue broke, everyone trying to pile into the shop at the same time. Two men started fighting in the road. A woman was shouting “get off him, get off him,” at them, but I don’t know which of the men she was talking to. Someone pushed past us, nearly knocking me over. Ben grabbed my arm and pulled me to one side. An old man with a hat tried to walk over him, but he fended him off. He’s quite strong for his age, although I’d never tell him that because he’d get big-headed about it.
“Wait there,” Mum called out to us. And then she and Dad were in the crowd of people fighting to get into the shop. Dad was using his elbows to push through the people around him. Mum tried the burrowing method. She’s thin enough and small enough to squeeze through gaps that Dad wouldn’t have even thought about.
It was just a little shop, like Mum had said. There was just a normal door, which was held open by the bodies trying to get through it; none of your double automatic doors stuff you get in supermarkets. Other people were trying to fight their way out at the same time, which made things worse. Someone tried to grab a bag from one of the people who had already done their shopping, and a fight broke out in the doorway, which didn’t help anyone.
Dad was four or five people back from the doorway, and Mum was a little further back. I lost sight of her for a while, and I was worried that she had been trampled to the ground. But then she was there again, closer to the doorway than Dad. She looked like she was enjoying herself. Dad certainly wasn’t, though.
Ben looked worried. “I’m going after them,” he told me.
“Mum said wait here.”
“Look at that, though! All those people, pushing and shoving. They should be queueing!”
“You sound like Dad.” And he did.
Dad was being swept backwards. He wasn’t as tough as Mum, even though he was a lot bigger than her. I think that he was still worried about upsetting people by being too rough, but she didn’t mind about that at all. More people were joining the scrum all the time, coming in from the side rather than the back. If it had been rugby, they’d have been yellow-carded for an off-side like that.
Mum disappeared again.
“I’m going in,” Ben repeated.
“If you do, I’m coming with you.” I was bluffing. I was just saying it to stop him going. There was no way I was going anywhere near all those people. I’d be trampled to pieces. He would be, too, though. I didn’t want the blame for letting him go without saying something. I had to do my best to keep him there.
He looked at me with narrowed eyes, trying to work out if I meant it. He took a few steps back towards the shop. I did, too. He stopped.
“I’ll only be a minute,” he pleaded.
“Me, too,” I bluffed.
I must have sounded like I meant it, as he made a cross little strangled noise, and stepped back to where we had been standing. I followed him. I caught sight of Mum. She had reached the door. She was lifted up in the air a little, like in a line-out (sorry; rugby again!) She was shouting at the people around her, but they didn’t seem to care. Dad was trying to force his way towards her, his arms raised in the air towards her, but she was too far away for him to help.
The shopkeeper appeared behind her. He was trying to close the door. His customers were having none of it. Someone punched him. The crowd of people pushed him back inside the shop, but he didn't go far as there were too many people trying to get out behind him, blocking his way.
Mum disappeared again. I was worried about her. She’s quite small, even for a Mum. I was tempted to tell Ben that he could go and help her after all, but he was even smaller than her (though not by much) so I kept quiet. I didn’t want to lose both of them.
I kept expecting the police to turn up. That’s what they’re supposed to do when there’s trouble. If you do anything wrong, my parents had told me, the police will come and arrest you, and you’ll spend the night in prison. But there were no Police, no sirens. I guess their cars were stuck behind the rubble in the road we had seen earlier, and it would take them a long time to get here on bicycles.
Dad started fighting with the man next to him; I think the man was upset that he had tried to shove his way through the crowd. Dad took a punch to the face. He started punching him back. The man looked frightened, but kept lashing out at Dad. Someone tried to pull Dad away; two against one. I was even more worried. I wanted to do something, to go to his rescue, but I was eight. I didn’t know what to do. I started crying, as it was all I had.
Ben was screaming at the men to get off our Dad, but there were so many people there, so much noise already, that I don’t know if they could even hear him. His voice was higher than everyone else, different from theirs, so they might have done. But if they did, they ignored him.
Dad was taking more punches to the head and shoulders. He gave up on reaching Mum in the shop-doorway. Under attack, he started forcing his way back towards us. I was surprised he had given up on Mum, but was glad at the same time because I didn’t want those men to keep hitting him. Maybe he was worried about leaving Ben and I alone now that people were getting violent. It was best to give up on the shop. We didn’t need food that badly; we had crisps at home. Three different flavours.
As he moved away, the man he had been arguing with let him be, and went back to trying to push through the crowd towards the shop. The man behind him kept going, though, hitting him another four or five times as he tried to squeeze his way back to us. Dad elbowed him sharply in the face a couple of times, and hunched his neck into his shoulders like a tortoise to try to keep his head safe, but didn’t look back. He caught Ben’s eye and ploughed his way towards us. It was easier for him to move the nearer he got to the back of the crowd, as people weren’t quite as tightly packed as they were as they were by the doorway. The man stopped hitting him, but shouted swearwords at him, some of which were so bad I can’t even give you the first letter.
He reached us. He picked up Ben first, which made me sad, bearing in mind I was crying and needed a hug. Then me. He held me against his chest. My face was close to his. I pulled away a bit, even though I was desperate for a hug, as he had blood running down his cheek and I didn’t want it to touch me.
“Have you seen your Mum?” he asked, as he put me down. “Have you seen your Mum?”
“I think she’s in the shop,” Ben replied. I wasn’t so sure she’d made it, though. Maybe he was just saying that to cheer Dad up, or stop him going back to look for her. “Are you okay?”
Dad nodded, but he didn’t look okay at all. He had blood on his face and his white England rugby-shirt. It is hard to describe the look on his face. It was sort of angry and frightened at the same time.
“Can I go and look for her?” Ben asked. Now that Dad was back to look after me, he felt that it was okay to leave me and check on Mum.
Dad shook his head. “No way. You’re both staying here with me. Tell me when you see her, and I’ll go and get her.”
“But he might hit you again,” Ben protested.
“I’d like to see him try,” Dad said crossly. It was one of those things that grown-ups say that don’t really mean anything. He would not like to see him try to hit him again at all. He’d seen him try the first time, and his face was a mess because of it. I didn’t want to see the man hit him, no matter what Dad thought, and decided that if Mum appeared anywhere close to the nasty men in the crowd, I would keep quiet until she had wriggled past them, just to be on the safe side. They wouldn’t hit Mum, after all, because she was a lady.
The three of us kept a worried look-out for her. Time dragged by. I was starting to get tearful again, worried that Mum might have got squashed in the shop, but Ben gave me a cross look and I kept the tears bunched up inside me in case he gave me a dead arm.
Dad was looking even more scared than me. I could see him watching the crowd, trying to work out if there was any way he could make it through to the door, but there were more people there now than ever, and some of the people at the doorway had been there for ages, just trying to keep their feet, so it didn’t seem there was any hope at all of getting inside.
And then there was Mum, popping out from between two old people over to our left, running towards me, hugging me without dropping the tins she held in her hands. I was glad that she’d chosen me first, because Dad had picked Ben. It seemed only fair that we should both get picked first once.
She stepped away from me and hugged Ben. Dad hugged her while she still had her arms round my brother. “I was so worried about you,” he said. “I thought you’d been crushed.”
“I’m fine. It was quite fun, actually. What happened to you? Are you okay? You’re covered in blood!”
“You should see the other guy,” he said, with an embarrassed look on his face.
“The other man’s fine,” I told her, just in case she was worried that Dad would be arrested by the Police. “Dad hardly hit him at all.”
Dad gave me a look, as if he was telling me why he got on better with Ben than with me. I cuddled Mum again as a distraction (that’s where you do something to stop people thinking about something else).
“What have you got?” Dad asked her, always the practical one. I was glad he had changed the subject.
She held up four small tins, two in each hand. She looked really pleased with herself. “Four tins of tuna,” she announced proudly.
Dad seemed less than impressed, and I couldn’t say I blamed him as I hate the stuff, as I think I’ve already told you. “We’ve got plenty of that in the cupboard already.”
She stared at him open-mouthed, and then she turned round and started walking home as fast as she could. I hurried after her, with Dad and Ben close behind me.
“I was just saying,” Dad called after her. “I was just saying.”
On the way back home, we found out that the bombing in our street could have been a lot worse. We returned home a different way from the way we’d come, as we didn’t have to go past Tesco’s and the garage. As we walked up the road, we saw that half the houses in one road had gone. It was less than ten minutes’ walk from where we lived. I knew what Dad was thinking from the look on his face, as I was thinking it, too. That could have been us.
There were a couple of people wandering over the broken bricks a few houses down, as if they were looking for something. A lady was standing by the ruins of the house next-door, shouting and swearing at them, calling them vultures, but they were ignoring her. Although she was shouting at them, she didn’t seem to want to get too close to them, and after what had happened to us at the shop I could see why.
Dad looked over. She caught him staring. “And what are you staring at?” she screamed at him.
He looked away.
“Are you going to help yourself, too? He was a good man. A good man. You people disgust me.”
“I wasn’t doing anything,” he protested. He’d raised his voice, but it was gentle all the same, as if he was saying sorry to her.
“Vultures, the lot of you,” she screamed back at him, which didn’t seem fair as he was only looking.
We walked on. She carried on screaming. I looked back over my shoulder as we were walking, and saw that she had crossed to our side of the road and was following us. I went a little faster, not wanting to be at the back if she caught us up in case she grabbed me or something.
“Poor woman,” said Mum.
“Mad cow,” replied Dad, whispering so there was no chance of the lady overhearing him. “It’s all I did was glance over, to see what was going on. There’s no need for her to go mental at me.”
“She’s lost everything. I’d be like that, too, if that were me.”
“Vultures, the lot of you!” the poor woman screamed after us again.
“Maybe we should let her stay in our house while we’re visiting Mum.”
Dad stared at her as if she was as mad as the lady behind us. “What? Tell me you’re joking.”
“Why not? She could look after it for us. She’s got nothing, Ben (she meant Dad-Ben, not Ben-Ben). It would be the right thing to do.”
“It’s because she’s got nothing that I wouldn’t want to give her the keys to our home while we’re away. We’d come back and find the house empty.”
“No, we wouldn’t. She’d have nowhere to take it all. Her house is gone.”
“She’d hide it under a bush or something. That’s what mad people do. We’re not doing it, okay? She’s mental. Just listen to her, ranting away at us.”
“That’s her grief talking.”
“Well I’ll be grieving too if you let her in our home and she steals my telly.”
“What would she want with a telly, if she’s got nowhere to plug it in?”
“I said “no”, okay? Can we just leave it at that? The boys must be getting sick of us arguing. We’ve got more important things to worry about right now.”
Mum looked at me. For one awful second, I thought she was going to ask what I thought about asking the lady to come home with us. I really didn’t want to be asked. You don’t get in the middle when grown-ups are arguing if you have any brain at all, especially when if it means taking sides between your parents. And besides, I really didn’t want that woman to come home with us when she kept shouting at us all the time, and Mum might be disappointed with me if I told her that.
“I’m gonna give her some of this tuna, then,” Mum decided. “Just a couple of cans.”
“She doesn’t have a tin-opener,” Dad pointed out. “She’ll think you’re taking the mick.”
“She can borrow ours.”
Dad changed the subject. He was good at doing that in an argument. I tried to do the same thing when I was arguing with Ben, but usually he noticed and brought it right back round again. As they carried on arguing, I noticed that the lady had given up shouting at us, and was going back to what used to be her home, as if there was something left there which was worth guarding. I don’t think she would have liked our tuna anyway, as it’s way too fishy.
“I thought you didn’t have any money?” Dad was saying. “How did you get the tuna without any money?”
“In case you didn’t notice, there was a riot back there! How do you think I got it?”
“You stole it!”
“I borrowed it.”
“That’s looting. You could go to prison for that.”
“Everyone else was doing it. I’ll tell you what, I’d have taken more if there was anything left worth taking.”
“What’s that poor man in the shop going to do now? That was his livelihood.”
“That poor man in the shop had a sign over the bread charging ten pounds a loaf! Ten pounds for a loaf of bread! And it had still all gone! I’ve got no sympathy for him at all.”
“Supply and demand.”
I don’t know what that means. I heard it again today (I’ll tell you about that later). I think it’s got something to do with buying stuff.
“Don’t give me that rubbish. He was ripping people off, and they didn’t like it. What happened back there was Karma. He got what was coming to him.”
“That’s a good lesson for the kids to learn, isn’t it? If you don’t agree with what someone’s doing, it’s fine to steal all their stuff and leave them with nothing.”
“It was four tins of tuna, for eff’s sake! You should be thanking me. Isn’t our family more important than some rip-off merchant down the shops?”
They carried on arguing.
We were nearly home. I ran ahead, not wanting to hear them going on and on about tuna any more. I waited for them at the front door. I noticed that smoke was still coming from the houses further down our road which had been hit by the bomb the night before, although I couldn’t see any flames any more. Ben came with me, as tired of the argument as I was. He usually said that running ahead was what babies did, but this time round he decided that it was okay.
Dad let us in. We both went upstairs to play, leaving Mum and Dad to carry on their argument downstairs. On a different day, I would have said that Dad was right; stealing is bad, and you can go to prison for it. But it seemed to me that there was no more police around, which meant no more prisons, which meant that people could do whatever they liked. And it turned out later that I was right.
Considering everything that was happening outside – the riots, the shouting ladies, the bomb craters – everything was surprisingly normal back at home. We still didn’t have any electricity for the TV, and Mum and Dad wouldn’t stop arguing, but other than that it was like any other day. It would be the last day that things were almost normal. I wish that I would have appreciated it more now.
Ben and I were bored. Dad tried to get the Monopoly set out again, but it’s not the kind of game you play more than once a week unless you’re some sort of Monopoly geek, which I wasn’t. We couldn’t use our i-pads as mine was dead and Ben was saving his battery. I still wasn’t in the mood for reading either; I wanted to be round people rather than doing something all on my own. So Ben and I talked in our room, while Mum and Dad stomped around downstairs.
Dad come upstairs after a while to wash the blood off his face and to change his rugby shirt. He looked in on us afterwards, gave us a smile, asked if we were okay up here, and then went back downstairs to shout at Mum a bit more.
After what seemed like a very long time indeed, it was time for tea. More tuna fish sandwiches, as Mum wanted to use them up before the bread went hard and Dad wanted to use them up before the mayonnaise went bad. There wasn’t much left in the house which we could eat without cooking first anyway. Mum said that she and Dad had decided that we were definitely, definitely going to visit Nan tomorrow, whatever happened, and that Nan’s cooker would be working and we could eat whatever we wanted when we got there. Dad didn’t look so sure, but he didn’t say anything.
We went to bed early. It was only about seven o’clock, even though I usually go to bed an hour later than that, except at Christmas when I can stay up as long as I can stay awake. Mum told me that we had to get plenty of sleep as we had a long walk tomorrow, and Dad added that it was too long a walk for small children and then they started arguing again. I was actually quite glad to go to sleep, though, so I didn’t have to listen to it any more. At the time, I thought there couldn’t be anything worse than to have nothing to do all day except hear your parents shouting at each other, but I know better than that now.
I woke up in the middle of the night. It was still dark. I tried to turn on my night-light but the power was off so it didn’t work. “What was that?” I asked Ben. “Did you hear that?”
He didn’t answer, so I said it again louder. There was someone knocking loudly on the door downstairs. It was a bit scary, as no-one ever knocked on our door during the night, except when the police-man came round last year to tell us that Grandad had been run over in a car accident and had died. I hoped that no-one had come with a message about Nan.
Ben woke up. He listened. He got up and put his dressing gown. I put mine on, too. “Should we get Dad?”
He shook his head. “Best find out what it is first. I don’t want to wake them up if it’s something stupid. They need their rest.”
I wasn’t sure he was right about that. They always went to bed much later than we did. But he was in charge while they were asleep so I went along with it.
We went downstairs. We opened the front door. We have a little glass porch. There were two men outside, wearing dark coats. One was knocking on the porch window (our doorbell was broken) and the other was standing a couple of feet behind him with a couple of black bin bags in his hand.
“Open the door, lads,” the man said. He sounded friendly enough. “We need to speak to your Dad. Is he home?”
Ben nodded. “He’s upstairs. Shall I get him?”
“Yeah, yeah. Just let us in first. We’ll wait downstairs. It’s cold out here.”
Ben went to open the door. He stopped. He looked at the two men again, and then at me. “Do you think it’s okay to let them in?”
“Maybe we should ask Dad first?” It was nice to be asked for my opinion, but I wasn’t used to making decisions like this on my own. I thought that maybe he was only asking me so he could blame me if it turned out to be the wrong thing to do. That was way too much responsibility as far as I was concerned. Best ask Dad; he would know if it was okay or not.
“I don’t want to wake him up,” Ben repeated. “He needs his sleep, too.”
“Let us in,” the man repeated. “Your dad will be cross if you leave us out here in the cold.”
Ben took the key in his fingers. The man with the bag came nearer to the door, standing next to the one who had been doing all the talking. He looked rough. Ben took his fingers off the key again. He was nervous, and that was making me nervous too.
“Open the effing door, Kid” the first man said. He didn’t say “effing”, of course. I’ve already told you earlier why I don’t say that word.
And then Dad was coming down the stairs, with Mum just behind him. I was so pleased to see him, as I was getting really nervous that something bad was going to happen, and it would be alright now he was here. Dad waved us out of the porch, and he spoke to the men through the glass door. Mum held our hands as they talked.
“What’s up? Why are you talking to my kids?”
“Let us in. We need to talk to you.”
“Not until you tell me what you want.”
“Let us in. I can’t tell you standing on your doorstep.”
Dad stepped back indoors, and closed the front door behind him, without even saying goodbye (which surprised me as it seemed a little rude). There was a bang, I think one of them must have kicked the porch door. Mum shrieked. Dad opened the front door again, and went back out into the porch. “Eff off! I’ll have the Police on you!”
“Good luck with that, mate,” the first man said, and he kicked the door again, really hard. It moved, but stayed shut. I didn’t like it. I was afraid they would hurt us if they got in.
Dad turned to us. “Go back upstairs,” he told us. And then to Mum. “Go get their baseball bat.”
The man kicked the door again. I’d seen people break doors open on TV. I think you need to run at them and hit them with your shoulder. It worried me that if he remembered that, then he’d be able to get in and hit us.
“Give us your effing food now,” the rough man shouted. “Or we’ll break your effing head open in front of your kids.”
“Get up the stairs,” Dad told us again. Grown-ups are better at not being scared than children are. Mum was going upstairs already. I went after her, to show her where our baseball was. Ben stayed with Dad, which was very brave of him as I couldn’t bear to see them trying to break the door down any more.
The man kicked the door again. I heard something crunch, even from half way up the stairs. I didn’t think the door would last much longer.
Dad turned to Ben. “I won’t ask you again,” he said. Ben caved in. He followed me upstairs. While Mum went back down with the baseball bat, he pulled back the curtains in our bedroom and stood at the window, his face pressed tight against the glass, trying to see the men outside. But our bedroom was right above the door, so he couldn’t see much at all.
There were more kicks on the door. It sounded like both men must be attacking it now; the kicks were coming too quickly for it to be just one of them. Mum started screaming at them to go away. They were swearing back at her, threatening her, threatening all of us. Dad said nothing. I guess he was just standing there with the baseball bat, ready to protect us if they came through the door. He was always good at looking after us, but there were two of them and I didn’t know if he would be able to stop them coming upstairs after us, even with my baseball bat to help him.
And then there was an explosion. The room shook, and all the books fell back off our bookcase again. Above the rooftops, we could see a huge ball of flame and smoke. The bombers were back, and this time they had hit something really big.
“That’s got to be the petrol station,” Ben told me, as we watched the fire light up the night sky. “Nothing else would explode like that.”
The banging on the door stopped. I could see the men running off down the road. “Good riddance!” I shouted after them through the closed window, to show them that I wasn’t scared, but only because I knew they couldn’t hear me.
We went back down again. Dad had opened the porch door to watch the men as they were running down the road. I popped my head round to see how badly damaged the door was. There was hole all the way through one of the panels. Mum dragged me back in again.
“We’re definitely going to Mum’s in the morning,” she said. “I’m not staying here another night.”
“But we need to stay here,” Dad replied. “To look after the house.”
“Bugger the house. There could be men like that in Canterbury, breaking in to Mum’s flat. And the kids aren’t safe here anyway; those men might come back tomorrow. You can stay and protect the furniture if you want, but me and the kids are going, with or without you.”
He nodded, knowing when he was beaten. There was no way he’d let us go on our own, especially after what had just happened. I felt a little sorry for him. I knew how important the house was to him. And I wasn’t any happier than him about other people going through my stuff while we were away, taking my things. I would have to take Teddy with me, to make sure he was safe.
But Mum was right. Much as I hated to lose my stuff, I didn’t want to stay home another night if people were going to try and break in and hurt us. I didn’t think they would do that in Canterbury, as Mum always says it’s nicer there (she wanted us to move there too when Nan moved into her flat, but Dad liked Ramsgate too much, and he was better at winning arguments back then).
“Pack up the important stuff,” Dad told us all. “Not too much; we’re going to have to carry it. We’re leaving as soon as it’s light.”
There wasn’t much for me to pack. I’d have liked to take some of my board games, but they wouldn’t fit in the Tesco carrier bags I was given (the over-night bags would be too heavy for me to carry all the way to Canterbury, Dad said). So I took a few of my favourite books, my i-pad (the battery was flat, but it was too expensive to leave behind) and some photos of the family which Dad had given to me. And Teddy, of course. I wasn’t going anywhere without Teddy, however much Ben told me that people would think I was a baby if they saw him.
Mum tried to leave with her big blue suitcase, but Dad wasn’t having any of it. “I’m the one who’ll end up carrying it,” he pointed out. “Just take a sports bag with a change of clothing, that’s all you’ll need. We’re coming back here as soon as we’ve checked on your Mum.” They agreed in the end on the small suitcase. Mum argued that she had to take changes of clothes for Ben and me as well as for herself, as we hadn’t allowed space for clothes in our carrier bags (to be fair on us, there’s not much room left in a carrier bag once you’ve put Teddy and an i-pad in it). So she took the small suitcase instead.
I stayed close to Dad when we left, in case the men from last night were hiding nearby, but it was actually really quiet out there at first, as if everyone else had left already. Dad had spent the rest of the night sitting by the front door, looking out for them, with our baseball bat across his knees, so I guess he would have seen them if they had crept back again. But it was better to be safe than sorry, and it made me feel better anyway.
I wished we could have taken the car. It would have been much easier if the roads weren’t blocked off, and it was Monday now and the roads would have been quiet as the school-run hadn’t started yet. We could have driven to Nan’s to make sure she was alright in no time at all. I’ve never been a great fan of walking. Or any exercise really. Ben has always been really good at PE and stuff, but I’m really bad at it. I’m hypermobile, which means that my joints are too bendy, and my knees go in a bit where they should go out. I wasn’t looking forward to the walk as I knew that it would hurt a lot.
Just before we set off, Dad went through the cupboard and the fridge to see if there was anything we could eat on the journey without it being cooked first. Believe it or not, he made more tuna sandwiches (even though we had them for lunch and dinner the day before). Mum had got the tuna from the shop (without paying), and although he had spent so long telling her off about it the day before, he wasn’t going to see it go to waste now we had it. I wished that she had stolen a tin of hot dog sausages instead.
Mum carried her own suitcase at first, but she was struggling before long and Dad took over with a roll of the eyes. One of the wheels on the bottom had fallen off (Ben was pulling me around on it at the time), so he had to carry it. Dad started flagging by the time we were walking past what was left of the harbour, and kept changing the suitcase from one hand to the other. A lot of the boats were burnt black, twisted and half-sunk, which made me sad as I liked watching them when we used to go to the harbour to eat. It looked like the bombing had been worse here and Ben told me that the bombs had probably been dropped on our town to stop people using the boats to get away. I wasn’t so sure, though. Our house is miles from the harbour, and my friend George at school says that the planes nowadays all have what’s called precision bombing so that they can take out a terrorist on his mobile phone without hurting the person standing next to him (which sounds awesome).
“What’s in here, anyway?” Dad asked Mum, holding up the case a little.
“Clothes,” she said, sounding a bit defensive.
“Why have you locked it, if it’s just clothes in here?”
“In case we get mugged.”
“They’re not gonna be able to run off with this. It weighs a ton. Give me the key, I want to open it. See what you’ve packed.”
She stalled for a while, but gave in when he said he would give the case back to her to carry if she didn’t hand the key over that instant. He put the case flat on the pavement, and opened it. I went over to have a look. Mum came too, to explain herself.
There were clothes at the top, as if to hide what was underneath. A make-up bag, deodorant, four toothbrushes, another make-up bag, shower gel…
Dad held the shower-gel up. “Why did you bring this?”
“Why do you think?”
“We can’t have a shower in the street!”
“We can at Mum’s.”
“I expect she’ll have her own shower-gel there, don’t you?”
He threw it away. Mum glared but bit her lip. Dad continued to rummage around. He produced three photo albums. I recognised them by the covers. The white one (with the overlapping love hearts) had their wedding photos in them, the blue one had Ben’s baby photos and the green one had mine.
“You’ve packed photo albums?”
“No way was I leaving them behind. Not with those men around.”
“No one’s gonna steal photo albums, are they? They wanted food, not our bloody wedding snaps!”
“But the house might get bombed.”
“We might get bombed!”
“But if we do, I won’t miss the photos, will I?”
Dad looked like he wanted to throw them away. He touched the front of the wedding album. He looked at Mum. He sighed. He put all three albums back in the case. He threw away her Jackie Collins novel, which was just to spite her, I think, as it didn’t weigh much, and he zipped up the case. He left it unlocked. I think he was hoping that some of the stuff inside would get stolen.
“Thank you,” she said.
“They’re my memories, too,” he replied.
We walked on.